Gifts of Meaning: Investing in Time for Teens This Christmas

By Brittany Stewart

by Danielle Dolin

In our core, engaged parents yearn to always maintain a close connection with our children.

God calls parents to invest in their children, and most parents innately understand this concept. They pour all their love and energy into parenting, hoping to produce decent human beings. But, pouring love and energy does suggest dispensing material positions. Rather, it means savoring time. Precious time.

A discussion came up with another parent recently regarding how to maintain this closeness to our teens; striving to preserve it well into adulthood. It sparked this two-part series. She connected with a friend who posted about her son inviting her to go on vacation with him last minute. A nineteen-year-old booking a last-minute getaway for his Mom and himself; how unique! After seeing this post, this parent called her friend to catch up and sparked the conversation regarding preserving this closeness with her teen. She complimented her friend by recognizing her intimate relationship with her child, even as he transitioned into adulthood. So, she asked what her secret was.

Her answer was to start investing in them, via time; when they become teens. Her advice included: spending more time with them, meeting them where they are. Choosing your battles wisely and making opportunities for them to open up to you (car rides, late nights before bed, being near THEM while they are comfortable in their space). She continued saying that in addition to spending time with her teens, “once her kids turned 13, she no longer gave ‘gifts’ for birthdays or Christmas”. She, of course, bought them things when they needed them, but those “big ticket” items became experiences. Her family enjoyed traveling for these “experiences”, taking one-on-one mini trips with them for birthdays, etc.

Her conversation resonated with me because our family actually started doing something similar to this well before my oldest turned 13. Don’t get me wrong, our kids always had a gift or two to unwrap for birthdays and Christmas, but rather than buying a bunch of toys that will either be donated a year later or just become drawer decorations, we elected to ask them each if they want to go on a mini vacation for birthdays and Christmas. They loved the idea! So far, this year, we beached it in California, cozied up in an inexpensive A-frame cabin in Northern Arizona, explored the icy waters of Lake Tahoe, visited the serene landscape of Utah and Lake Powell, and plan to venture back to California to visit a theme park for a couple of days to close the year. Our budget is always a major component too; trying to equate the “big ticket” items to the cost of the quick getaway. Let’s face it, the latest gadgets are expensive. We dived into cheap hotels, tents for camping, inexpensive VRBOs… Even if we are all a little crunched – we used the time to explore and connect. Making birthdays a celebration of life and spending time making memories, rather than taking up space in our already tiny home!

For Christians though, we are called to raise our children up “they way they should”. And this is not by buying them all the latest gadgets and gizmos, or the trendiest clothing. It’s to spend time with them and talk to them about God often. If your child wants the latest sneakers, have them earn them doing chores, yard work, etc. This practice coaches them in saving up. And they will appreciate these material items more because they earned them. For a list of “experience gifts,” you can reference Part One, “Gifts of Meaning: Investing in Experiences for Teens This Christmas.

On our beach vacation this year, we simply walked Mission Beach, played in the ocean, collected seashells, and enjoyed each other’s company. On all of our getaways, we come back closer, have more to talk about, and experience things that help us grow. For example, there was a Christian band playing on the beach walk one night, stars were out, crashing waves close by. We listened and participated by writing scripture in chalk on the walkway, and then proceeded to run in the sand together, throwing a football and laughing. Later, we just sat and stared at the vastness of the ocean and the moon making glitter on the waves. In a deep breath, I saw my husband let go of his work stress, my little one cuddled without a worry in my arms, squishing sand between his toes, my oldest was silent with his thoughts becoming clearer through the hormones, and my daughter was drawn to tears. She was connecting with the world, with God and we were experiencing it with her!

In the end, we can’t buy more time. It should be treasured. Don’t waste it away, spending money on meaningless gifts. Lessons of life are highlighted in time and strong relationships are forged. If your children spend their time watching an iPad and pushing buttons, then they will become great at staring at a device. Conversely, if you spend your time adventuring with your family, they will become explorers of life! Giving them memories together but also fostering relationship building and a desire to WANT TO BE TOGETHER!

“Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” James 4:14


Brittany Stewart, an accomplished writer and educator, draws inspiration from her 23-year marriage and upbringing near Lake Tahoe in Verdi, Nevada, now residing in Tucson, Arizona. With her Bachelor’s degree in Education, emphasizing Native American Literature and Journalism, Brittany is a multifaceted professional who is also a Licensed Massage Therapist. She is deeply involved in Tucson’s homeschooling community, leading a homeschool group, teaching dance, and offering art classes. She and her family have a homestead in Southern Arizona, where her husband hunts and she tends to the garden, emphasizing the importance of God and family in her life while continually seeking adventure through her travels.

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